The Rock and The Hard Place: Finding A Way Out of Unsolvable Problems

When UP is Not an Option

There’s the rock and there’s the hard place. Then there’s me in the middle.

The sides of these impossible walls are smooth and sheer. They are close enough together to make me claustrophobic but far enough apart to keep me from shimmying up between them. Sure, I can look up but what good does that do? Clear freedom sky to taunt when up is not an option.

So I sit. And think. And whimper and simmer.

Years I’ve been here in this quandary. My few choices seem like no choice at all.

I have tried to kick against the rock and it bruises my toes.

I have turned to pound my fists on the hard place and it mocks my futile flesh.

Is there no way out?

My Rocky Place

Do you have those stuck places in your life? Ever feel like you’ve been dropped into a deep hole out of which neither God nor the universe is offering a hand?

Call it your quandary of (insert your monolithic predicament here). Describe your rock of (insert ineffective solution here) and your hard place of (insert equally-useless option here).

Here’s one of my stuck places: my body doesn’t feel so great. Pain and discomfort have stuck with me for most of my adult life. I have spent a lot of time, energy, and money trying to figure out how to feel better physically.

Over the years, my mysterious aches and pains have driven me to various practitioners of the healing or medicating arts. I always hit a wall. No-one seems able to answer my questions or make me feel better. When I try some new supplement or just plain eating well and exercising, I still end up achy and disappointed.

Therefore, I’m caught between the rock of “trying to make myself feel better” and the hard place of “living with the pain and suffering.”

Both choices have been no choice at all. The first hasn’t worked and the second has not been much of an option. Am I missing something? Is there a third way to grapple with this problem?

The Reconciling Third

After I have spent my energy in seeming futility, I imagine what else I could do with all of this drive to find a way out.

In his book Falling Upward, Richard Rohr reminds me to survey my surroundings with different eyes. About necessary suffering, he says,

“Being held long and hard inside limits and tension….allows us to search for and often find the ‘reconciling third’ or the unified field beneath it all.”

Jesus reminds me that in this world I will have trouble but, through suffering, He has overcome the world.

St Paul says that I can rejoice in my suffering, knowing it will produce endurance and character leading to hope.

Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade shows me that a step of faith can reveal a hidden and unimaginable way forward.

Hard-Pressed Hebrews

Long ago, Moses and the fleeing Hebrews found themselves in an impossible situation. Pressed between an Egyptian army and a watery wall, they saw no options. The ‘reconciling third’ was nowhere in sight. What they had forgotten, as I often do, is that sometimes the third way is the way God comes through. In the case of the hard-pressed Hebrews, it was a miracle: the supernatural broke into the flow and carved a path through the impassable.

Miracles like this have not broken into my predicaments. Often, my problems resolve in the natural flow of time and space where step follows step and a small erosion brings change and freedom. Like when I realize my feet don’t ache as much or my low back has loosened a bit.

A true miracle for me, though, is when I surrender to the suffering and my suffering reveals itself as a blessing. God sometimes comes through for me by shifting my perspective.

Paradigm Shift

hard view new perspective
pixabay

This shift in my paradigm, my frame of reference, reveals a new angle on an old point of view. A tiny shaft of light breaks into the space.

Like when I accept my physical limitations and suddenly the permission to rest and relax feels like a miracle!  Or when I stop thinking and worrying about the pain and it somehow loses its intensity.

When the situation has not changed but my heart sees it in a different light, I realize that the change I have been searching for is taking place within me. My narrow place gives way to more space.  Hallelujah!

Two Hard-won Nuggets

1. Keep moving.

I will always have seemingly unsolvable problems. However, I’m old enough to realize that many struggles work themselves out as I get up and on with life each day.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same direction, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals the next step on a journey of hope.

2. Find freedom within the prison.

I try to get a new perspective, letting Surrender and Acceptance be my purview.

  • Any kind of faithful obedience in the same situation, despite hardships and intractable issues, reveals a beautiful new view within the confines of my condition.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not done searching for a way out of my pain and suffering. But my body must give way to the hardness of the way things are. My heart must soften and yield to what is yet to be revealed.

Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a foothold in one of these walls after all.

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Butterflies Inside

finding freedom to change

“Finding Freedom to Change”

I feel myself on the edge of better things

Close to giving all my wishes wings

Change for some comes fast and furious

For me it’s slow and hidden in the chrysalis

In this song, I sing about change as something that comes quickly for some but slowly for me, like the slow changes hidden inside a caterpillar pupa.

Aren’t you glad I didn’t sing that word, ‘pupa?’

Instead, I chose the slightly-less-awkward ‘chrysalis,’ which is what entomologists call the hard case where the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly takes place.

Entomologists say it is the stage of the life cycle in which the caterpillar’s body tissues break down and the butterfly’s tissues form. I can relate.

I am a Chrysalis.

Here in my middle age, I feel somewhere between young and old, breaking from foolishness and moving into wisdom. In this transitional phase, my growth toward maturity is hidden inside a rigid little case.

I witness no wizening even when using my magic magnification mirror. I only see the imperfections of the specimen. It can be frustrating at best. Infuriating at worst.

Looking For Change

I enjoy uncovering the origin of words — their etymology — so I surfed a few sites and found out that ‘chrysalis’ means ‘gold’ in Greek and Latin, which refers to the gold sheen of some butterfly cases.

I envy etymologists who get to study words and their histories all day long. Digging up meaning like precious metals, they reveal the richness of the words we inherit.

Having gone through the metamorphosis of time and human use, words become tools for transmitting vivid and multi-faceted messages, implications, interpretations or connotations. See what I mean?

They shine a light on the mundane parts of life.

In my case, I feel kind of unremarkable — rather ordinary. Getting older has lots of advantages but I have a love/hate relationship with it. Being somewhat invisible shakes me to my foundations.

I’m opaque as a butterfly chrysalis. But I am becoming free to change shape. And when the light is just right, there’s a golden sheen on me with hints of my future in the midst of my incompleteness.

finding freedom to change

Finding Freedom to Change

My husband and I are officially empty-nesters this year. Our youngest, Chloe, is about to graduate college and her summers of coming home are over.

Parents have experienced this change in every generation. My mom suffered through it. But now it’s my turn and it is all new to me. I imagine I should be better at adapting. But like the cooling temperatures signaling the season’s change, these shifts surprise me every time. I don’t want to say goodbye to summer.

When I reflect on this shift, a sadness settles over me. Like birds gathering in the trees, it’s a slow dawning that something’s coming, something else. Could it be something good, as precious as the past?

Change Is Good  finding freedom in change

On a recent August morning, Chloe and I were on the lawn enjoying the bugs, birds, and butterflies we love so much. It was her 21st birthday. She was visiting from her college town in which she’d decided to live for the summer.

We sat under the trees with our coffee and I cried: about her being 21 and me seeing the time slip by. I wasn’t trying to make her to feel bad. I was setting my emotions free instead of bottling them up.

Besides, part of our relationship is the safety of us taking turns crying together.

Signs of Change

I see myself in the mirror of His face

Reflecting imperfection but the change is taking place

This for some comes fast and furious

For me it’s slow and hidden in the chrysalis

Flying Diaries

I used to journal regularly. I have discontinued this practice because of what happened whenever I read back a few years: I would discover that nothing was different — I wasn’t changing, but writing about the same issues over and over. It felt pathetic and made me mad. I let a few diaries fly across the room.

I know I am not truly stalled in my evolution into God’s perfect design for me. It just feels suffocating to grow older with no cracking open. I don’t feel any wings forming back there. Just those tense, bony shoulders rising up around my ears.

Every now and again, though, there’s a little flutter in my stomach. My prayers and petitions for positive change have made a difference in me.

  • Like when I haven’t worried about my kids for days on end.
  • Or when my first thought is love for my neighbor even when she’s less-than-friendly to me.
  • Or when I feel gratitude for an empty house because there’s more room for rest and reflection.
  • Or when I recognize my particular suffering as necessary and even good.

These tiny signs of life are moving through my soul and finding their way out. I’m not bottling them up. Thanks to the entomologists and etymologists, I’ve got lovely metaphors for the changes taking place. I’ve got butterflies inside. Lifting from my lips, they learn to fly.

I’ve got butterflies inside

Forming in my mind

Moving through my soul, I know they’ll come alive

These butterflies inside

Flutter in my heart

Lifting from my lips they learn to fly

Listen to Butterflies Inside here!  More like this : “I Wanted My Dog Dead: Practicing Compassion”

I Wanted My Dog Dead

sweet white dog

“But I’m Finding Compassion Instead”

I’ve threatened to kill Luna.

I’ve cursed her name. I’ve smacked her on the butt a few times in her life. Oh, and maybe kicked her lightly once as she went out the door.

Luna is the family dog. Throughout the 13 years of her life with us, she has deposited pee, poop, puke, and piles of her white fur on every inch of my floors and carpets. Her fur is woven into the upholstery as well as into my clothing, especially my favorite black polar fleece jacket, a magnet for her stiff white hairs.

In the family we like to say that Luna has been everywhere we have been, all over the world, really. Her hair is in our suitcases and guitar cases, on our coat sleeves and the soles of our shoes. I have had a hard time finding compassion for this animal. As far as I go, try as I may, I can’t get away from Luna.

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
Young Luna with my youngsters

We all loved her from the start. She was so sweet and shy when we rescued her as a puppy. The kids and I thought her shyness would melt with our love. The people at the shelter said she’d been found in a ditch, possibly abused and abandoned. We all showered our cream-colored pup with affection as we brought her up in the safety and security of our family.

Thirteen years later, she still flinches at quick-reaching hands and threatens to bite those hands that have fed, petted, and thrown countless tennis balls across the lawn. She’s an emotional wreck when any family member comes home — doing her weird whiny throat yodel — as if she’s surprised we haven’t abandoned her. Lunacy! Her defensiveness and neuroses are mysteries we may never understand.

All The Rage

Now that she’s older, she’s decided to potty-train in reverse. I am finding fresh pee stains on my new shag carpet. She can’t hold it as she used to, and she seems confused by body signals that used to tell her to go outside.

So it’s back in the kennel at night and when we go out, the one we used for potty-training when she was a puppy. I’ve even purchased some doggy diapers at the pet supermarket. As I run the vacuum, I realize that her fur accounts for 85% of the dirt I’ve sucked up for 13 years. Why do I even have dogs in my house?

And as I watch her age, my rage grows. It’s not just the fresh pee or the perennial fur. Luna is the embodiment of all that I cannot control.

We’re both getting older. And we’re both wearing out.

We spend a lot of time together now that the kids have grown up and out of the house. In the mornings, she’s a little leg-stiff. Me, too. We both hobble out of our beds and head outside to scan for life on the lawn. Squirrels and birds scatter as we step onto our mossy grass and sniff the wind. We find a comfortable seat and settle in, staying out there under the trees all day when it’s warm. We like to go for afternoon walks in the woods with our other dog, sweet (non-shedding) Josie. We keep moving even though it would be easier to sit still.

 

finding compassion learning lessons for graceful aging from my dog
A walk in the woods with Josie and Luna

Graceful Aging

Luna was a great athlete in her youth. Her sport of choice: Tennis Ball. She awed everyone with her soaring mid-air catches. Our joy was in recognizing her joy, the embodiment of doing exactly what she was created to do: run, leap, land, and loop back to do it all again. And again. And again. And again.

Perhaps too many rough landings led to those shaky back legs of hers. I admire how, even now, she’ll surge after a squirrel, though she’ll pay for it in pain later.

I can sometimes see her attributes:

  • She stays clean and white and doesn’t smell bad.
  • She cleans sweet Josie’s eyes and ears.
  • She accepts each day as it comes and lives in the moment.
  • She doesn’t seem to worry about what the future holds.

I’m trying to learn from Luna. Soon enough, one of us will die, and the odds are against her.

My brother’s dog, Annie, died last month. He and his family are heartbroken. She’d been a part of their family for a long time. I think I would miss Luna if she died today.

Finding Compassion

She has become a mirror for me. After years of our love/hate relationship, I have reached a new awareness: If I can learn to find compassion for this dog, perhaps I can find some for myself.

Luna teaches me to get creative with aging. Some new tricks I am learning:

  • Bending over again and again to clean her mess offers me a constant choice of cursing versus gratitude.
  • Scratching her favorite spot behind her ears gives me pause to recall the years of walking this dog with my husband, kids, grandma, and neighbors.
  • Pondering the love she accepts and gives prompts me to remember the love I get and give away, too.
  • Finding compassion when she flinches for no good reason helps me acknowledge my own flinching fears, still with me after all of these years.

Something tells me I’m never going to get control of all the chaos in my life, whether it’s dog crap or my own crap. In fact, I suspect I will have less control over normal things, the older I get.

Strange how we often end the way we start: a little unsteady and needing a close eye. Like infants and the elderly, dogs like Luna often just want a little love, patience, and compassion.

I had never intended to kill Luna. I guess I don’t really want her dead.

She’s out on the porch now, barking at me through the glass, demanding to come in. Today, I will open the door and scratch her ears as she enters, offering an extra dose of love. She’ll thank me with a grunt and a shake, depositing a fresh sprinkling of her lovely white fur on my freshly-vacuumed rug.

Read next: Closer To Free

My Moment at the Well

finding life

He startles me as I walk up to the well. I hadn’t seen him sitting there under the trees. I turn around to face him as he begins talking to me. He says he wants some water to drink. I think it strange that he is alone. We are in the middle of nowhere. In the heat of the day. He has no way of getting to the water. No jar and such a deep well. He’s obviously parched. What is he doing here all by himself?

 People come from all over to sit and drink where Jacob himself once watered his flocks. He and his sons had walked these surrounding fields. This place is holy to us even if it isn’t to the Jews.

I mess with him a little. “You’re asking me for a drink? A woman of Samaria?” I know Jews don’t want to have anything to do with us. With me. Yet here he is, needing my help because he’s worn out. Thirsty. He is depending on me. How funny.

He answers me, saying something about if I knew who he was, I’d be asking him for a drink of ‘living’ water. He seems a little crazy. Well, I’ll take the bait.

I say to him in my sweetest voice, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” I’m smiling at him like I do when talking to a little kid who tells me that the stones he’s holding are real gold.

Who does he think he is, anyway? This well has been here for thousands of years and probably took months to dig. Out of nowhere he’s going to produce this so-called living water and I’m going to beg him for it? I don’t think so.

“You’ll never be thirsty again,” he is saying. If I drink the water he could give me, he says it will become in me a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Wow, that sounds fantastic. Water that just wells up in my body. Exactly what I need so I don’t have to come back again and again to this damned well just to stay alive and keep my dishes clean.

I’m so sick of trudging up and down this path alone with an old container that empties as fast as I fill it, with no kids to help, no man who cares to lift a finger for me, and flocks of women moving aside when they see me coming. Sure, fella, I’ll take some of that living water.

Of course now he tells me to go get my husband. Always turns out this way: women need a man to speak for them. A man to head the household. A man to stay around and do what he said he would do. I haven’t had any men like that in my life since my first husband died. After that, the others left or divorced me as soon as they realized they weren’t getting any sons and daughters out of me. Those liars are long gone.

“I have no husband,” I tell him.

“You’re right,” he says, “and the man you have now isn’t even your husband.”

His accusation is right. But how could he know that? He hasn’t been in town or hung around long enough to hear the gossip. And gossip they do, those heartless witches. No compassion- only judgment for a girl who tried to live by the rules but got stepped on and left behind by those rules instead.

He must be a prophet or something. This is getting interesting… and a little too personal. I wonder what he’ll say about those rules for living God’s way. If it is God’s way. So many rules that I can’t seem to keep to satisfy anyone around here.

“You Jews say we’re supposed to worship in Jerusalem even though our fathers worshiped God here on this mountain.” That’ll get him talking about what all men want to talk about: religion and politics.

He’s looking at me with a sweet smile on his face. “Woman, believe me…”

The way he called me ‘woman’ just now almost made me cry. Like I was someone he cared about. Someone he knew.

He’s saying that the time is coming and is even now happening- that it won’t matter where we worship God. He says true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. He’s even saying that the Father is looking for those kind of people.

I’ve never heard anyone talk religion like this! It feels like he’s just toppled over a rock wall inside of me. I’m tasting the dust of fear and freedom at the same time.

I mumble something I’ve heard all of my life, something about the messiah someday coming to tell us everything we need to know.

“That’s me,” he says. And I know he isn’t lying.

All of a sudden, some guys are coming up to him, looking shocked that he is talking to me.

I don’t care. My insides feel like churning water. My legs are weak as if I’m ripe wheat, just cut down and gathered up into the arms of God. Something in me wells up and I begin to run for joy. I float and fly into town. Suddenly I love everyone and want to hug them and tell them about the man who knows my story better than I do. The man who saw right through me. The man who saw ME and still smiled as if he loved me, cared about ME!


That day they all followed me back out of town and down to the well. I must’ve sounded like a crazy person. But I must’ve looked like a prophet because they followed me and for some reason, they believed me. Like I was somebody that had tasted something they were thirsty for.

I don’t know what life is gonna be like around here now that Jesus has come through. He only stayed a couple of days. That was long enough to make believers out of a lot of people in this place. They said they know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.

Everybody’s talking about him. They feel the way I felt.

But I met him first. I got to talk to him alone when no one else even knew how awesome he was.

Now, every time I go to that well, Jacob’s well, I remember the man who gave me a taste of living water. Sometimes that visit seems more like a dream than a memory. But I know it’s real. I remember how he told me about my crazy history. How he said that he was the Christ. How he looked at me and loved me.

I don’t worry now that I can’t get to Jerusalem to worship. I don’t just hope that the Father knows I want to worship him the right way, because He already knows. Because even though I’m way out here in no man’s land, He came through once, looking for me.

Read next: Everyday The Dust Comes Back